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Budget proposal raises property tax on homeowners

Legislative report

POSTED: March 25, 2009 10:42 a.m.
A majority of the House of Representatives voted Thursday to adopt an $18.6 billion annual state budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1. In the House plan, a $3 billion shortfall in state tax revenues is offset by $1.6 billion in spending cuts from the governor’s original proposal and $1.4 billion in additional funding from the federal stimulus package.
I voted against HB 119 because it fails to include funding for the state’s homeowner tax relief grants, which will result in the largest property tax increase in Georgia history. The elimination of these grants will cause a $200-$300 increase for the average Georgia homeowner on the property tax bills they receive later this year.
This tax increase comes at a time when Georgia families are struggling to pay their mortgage, put food on the table and keep the lights on. House Democrats have been working throughout this session to preserve the tax relief grants, by introducing HR 7, which would change the Constitution to require the General Assembly to fund the grants on a permanent basis.
We also proposed HB 356, which would give local governments the power to recoup sales tax revenues that have gone uncollected. A similar program in Alabama was successful in collecting more than $1 billion, which would be more than enough to fund the tax relief grants.
The House budget proposal also cuts another $197 million in state funding to local school systems, which pushes to approximately $2 billion the total amount of these cuts by Gov. Sonny Perdue and the legislative majority during his administration. These cuts have forced local boards of education to increase class sizes, property taxes or both.
On the positive side, thanks to federal stimulus funding, the House budget restores more than $200 million in Medicaid payments to hospitals and physicians that the governor had proposed to cut. This will hopefully allow struggling rural hospitals to keep their doors open and our doctors to continue treating all their patients. The House also put $30 million in the budget to retain school nurses and $33 million for the state’s trauma care network.
Prior to the vote, which was 123-49 in favor of the budget, Speaker Glenn Richardson took the well of the House and unleashed a partisan attack against President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats regarding the economic recovery/stimulus program. This seemed odd, considering that Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans, who presenting HB 119, had acknowledged the stimulus funding had helped balance the budget by softening the blow of cuts in Medicaid and education.
The budget plan has now gone to the Senate for its consideration.
With only a few legislative days remaining in the 2009 session, the House has been busy approving bills that have already passed the Senate and are now on their way to the governor’s desk for his signature. This week, those included:

• SB 76, which would remove the requirement for workers’ compensation insurers to submit an annual report to the Department of Insurance in paper format. Instead, this report would be filed electronically.

• SB 79, which would expand access to child abuse records in cases of “near fatality.” Currently, records can only be released when there is a fatality.

• SB 80, which would make it a felony for any company or individual to fail to report the discovery of salmonella or other food-borne disease to the State Department of Agriculture. This legislation addresses the problems resulting from salmonella-tainted peanut butter products manufactured at the Peanut Corp. of America in Early County.

• SB 110, which would provide an exception to a law against trapping wildlife on the rights-of-way of public roads or highways.

• SB 111, which would require people hunting alligators, raccoons, opossums, foxes, bobcats or hogs at night to wear a light on their person, affixed to a helmet, hat or belt system of the hunter.

Also Thursday, a majority of House Republicans voted to reject HR 673, which would honor President Obama on his election and inauguration as the 44th president of the United States and recognize the president as an honorary lifetime member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. I am very disappointed with the members who voted against this proposal, some of whom represent areas of Coastal Georgia.
In the past, resolutions such as this have been adopted without controversy. I once co-sponsored, without hesitation, a resolution honoring former President Ronald Reagan. I had never voted for President Reagan and disagreed with him on many issues, but I showed him the respect he deserved for his position as president and commander in chief.
Many of those who voted against HR 673 on Thursday are at the same time lining up to spend part of President Obama’s stimulus funding on projects in their districts. The House did vote Friday to reconsider the resolution later in the session. Hopefully, partisanship can be put aside at that time.

Williams represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House. Contact him during the legislative session at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by e-mail at al.williams@house.ga.gov.
 

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